Since reading NeuroTribes, I think of psychologically & sensory safe spaces suited to zone work as “Cavendish bubbles” and “Cavendish space”, after Henry Cavendish, the wizard of Clapham Common and discoverer of hydrogen. The privileges of nobility afforded room for his differences, allowing him the space and opportunity to become “one of the first true scientists in the modern sense.”
Let’s build psychologically safe homes of opportunity without the requirement of nobility or privilege. Replace the trappings of the compliance classroom with student-created context, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), and BYOC (Bring/Build Your Own Comfort). Let’s hit thrift stores, buy lumber, apply some hacker ethos, and turn the compliance classroom into something psychologically safe and comfortable to a team of young minds engaged in passion-based learning. Inform spaces with neurodiversity and the social model of disability so that they welcome and include all minds and bodies. Provide quiet spaces for high memory state zone work where students can escape sensory overwhelm, slip into flow states, and enjoy a maker’s schedule. Provide social spaces for collaboration and camaraderie. Create cave, campfire, and watering hole zones. Develop neurological curb cuts. Fill our classrooms with choice and comfort, instructional tolerance, continuous connectivity, and assistive technology. In other words, make space for Cavendish. Make spaces for both collaboration and deep work.
One of the more interesting ideas emerging from attention capital theory is the surprising role environment can play in supporting elite cognitive performance.
Professional writers seem to be at the cutting edge of this experimentation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the near future, we start to see more serious attention paid to constructing seriously deep spaces as our economy shifts towards increasingly demanding knowledge work.
Like Cavendish, I’m autistic. I relate to much of his personal life. He needed his bubble, his cave, his sensory and social cocoon. He also needed, occasionally, the company of a small set of his Royal Society peers. The Royal Society Monday Club was his campfire, his place where he could lurk at the edges and socialize with a small group on his terms.
Cavendish was very uncomfortable in the public eye. He formed an alliance with Charles Blagden, an extroverted and outgoing Monday Club peer, whereby Blagden introduced Cavendish and his ideas to wider audiences. Blagden brought Cavendish to the creative commons, to the watering holes of science and naturalism.
My cave, campfire, and watering hole moods map to the red, yellow, and green of interaction badges (aka color communication badges). The three-level communication flow used at my company and other distributed companies reflects the progressive sociality of cave, campfire, and watering hole contexts and red, yellow, green interaction moods. These triptych reductions are a useful starting place when designing for neurological pluralism. When we design for pluralism, we design for real life, for the actuality of humanity.
Design for agency and collaboration. Design for acceptance and intrinsic motivation. Design for the real lives of disabled and neurodivergent people. We are always edge cases, and edge cases are stress cases. The logistics of disability and cognitive difference are exhausting, often impossible. A necessary part of design is compassion, and a necessary part of compassion is recognizing the structural realities of marginalized people. Design is tested at the edges. We design for everyone when we design for neurodiversity and disability.
“Edge cases define the boundaries of who and what you care about” (http://bkaprt.com/dfrl/00-01/). They demarcate the border between the people you’re willing to help and the ones you’re comfortable marginalizing.
That’s why we’ve chosen to look at these not as edge cases, but as stress cases: the moments that put our design and content choices to the test of real life.
It’s a test we haven’t passed yet. When faced with users in distress or crisis, too many of the experiences we build fall apart in ways large and small.
Instead of treating stress situations as fringe concerns, it’s time we move them to the center of our conversations-to start with our most vulnerable, distracted, and stressed-out users, and then work our way outward. The reasoning is simple: when we make things for people at their worst, they’ll work that much better when people are at their best.
Source: Design for Real Life
Intersectionality’s raison dêtre is to reveal the systems that organize our society. Intersectionality’s brilliance is that its fundamental contribution to how we view the world seems so common-sense once you have heard it: by focusing on the parts of the system that are most complex and where the people living it are the most vulnerable we understand the system best.
At its core, intersectionality is about nuance and context.
“Essentially, no one knows best the motion of the ocean than the fish that must fight the current to swim upstream. I study fish that swim upstream.”
An education that is designed to the edges and takes into account the jagged learning profile of all students can help unlock the potential in every child.
Even better than designing for is designing with. Neurodivergent & disabled students are great flow testers. They’ll thoroughly dogfood your school UX. There are great opportunities for project & passion-based learning in giving students agency to audit their context and design something better.
And, take my word on this, no one can identify and rebel against an unfair system as efficiently as a kid or adult with ID, except perhaps an autistic person. They know the system is unfair!
Parallel to the topic of who designs for children lies a bigger question: Do children need design at all? Or, rather, how might they be enabled to design the toys they need and experiences they desire for themselves? The act of making that designers find so satisfying is built into early childhood education, but as they grow, many children lose opportunities to create their own environment, bounded by a text-centric view of education and concerns for safety. Despite adults’ desire to create a safer, softer child-centric world, something got lost in translation. Jane Jacobs said, of the child in the designed-for-childhood environment: “Their homes and playgrounds, so orderly looking, so buffered from the muddled, messy intrusions of the great world, may accidentally be ideally planned for children to concentrate on television, but for too little else their hungry brains require.” Our built environment is making kids less healthy, less independent, and less imaginative. What those hungry brains require is freedom. Treating children as citizens, rather than as consumers, can break that pattern, creating a shared spatial economy centered on public education, recreation, and transportation safe and open for all. Tracing the design of childhood back to its nineteenth-century origins shows how we came to this place, but it also reveals the building blocks of resistance to fenced-in fun.
The School User Experience
What do kids see? What do they feel? What do they smell? What do they hear? What is their experience as they move through your school?
How much more effective we might be if our user interface design was intentional, and intentionally designed to support children?
Have many fewer rules, and ONLY have rules you can successfully defend in a debate with a student.
Eliminate lunch detention and no recess punishments. Those are cruel punishments which demolish your credibility with every child.
Working graffiti is good.
We had been talking about our journey from opening up a few walls to building truly flexible spaces, from offering kids seating and writing choices to a move toward eliminating single-teacher classrooms, but our presentation was, indeed, geared toward building.
“Everybody always has a building project,” I finally said.
Because every school should be changing all the time. And should be changing with a purpose — moving from adult centered teaching spaces to child centered learning spaces — moving from static environments to flexible environments — moving from controlling design to inspiring design.
Every school needs a building project every year, because you don’t need contractors and bulldozers to change a school environment — you just need commitment.
So if you can’t do the expensive stuff — you can still do the effective stuff. So here are four things you can do to change your school’s space.
One: Give your kids the gift of daylight.
Well, in order to maintain healthy attention kids need three things that are often in short supply in schools — fresh air, large muscle movement, and daylight. One of the easiest to fix, in many schools, is daylight.
Two: Get rid of teacher desks.
The teacher’s desk is an ugly remnant of a time when uninvolved teachers led ineffective classes, they really need to vanish.
Three: Keep all of your classroom doors open.
The most obvious way to build transparency and openness into your educational environment is to open classroom doors and create the notion of ‘the commons.’ Opening doors will make your school noisier and more active. It will convert corridors from waste space to instructional space. It will allow kids who need a different kind of space to have it and yet — remain supervised.
Obviously it will do something else. The talk we gave to the architects was titled “Space that forces change — Change that forces space.” Opening doors will make your teachers change what they do. Noisier environments mean that teacher voice must change. You can’t really yell over it, you have to talk under it, and thus move away from mass instruction.
Four: Let kids sit where they want, if they want.
We have this saying, “if a kid can’t walk into any classroom, kindergarten through 12th grade, and choose where, how, or if to sit — we aren’t teaching them to make decisions, which means we aren’t teaching them very much at all.”
This is important. The act of controlling seating, like the act of controlling toilet use, or food and drink, is an act which shatters the possibility of real trust between teachers and children.
We cannot build an effective, an empathetic, a working User Experience unless we build a User Interface that kids won’t turn away from. And our schools are User Interfaces. Our schools are the “how” our children interact with education. Every door, wall, room, teacher, rule, chair, desk, window, digital device, book, hall pass are part of the User Interface, and that User Interface defines the User Experience.
And we cannot begin to understand the User Experience we need until we get fully into the heads of our users. That’s true in web and programming design, its true in retail and restaurant design, and its absolutely true as we design our schools. This understanding can have complex analytical paths – and those are important, and it has a committed caring component – but it also has an essential empathetic underpinning, and maybe you can begin working on that underpinning in a serious way before this next school year begins.
Source: SpeEdChange: Writing for Empathy
The learning flexibility created by our new school-wide, multi-age spaces offers a much wider bandwidth of opportunities and potential experiences to children. We have learned from multiple research sources that natural light is a key ingredient to create environments in which learners thrive. Since the redesign, light pours into halls and learning spaces. A variety of flexible furniture, seating, and informal work areas provide learners and teachers with both choice and comfort options to locate in space differently depending upon the work that is being done. The teachers know from learning research that both spaces for quiet, independent work as well as for small and large groups to gather are critical to address the range of children’s needs, planned learning experiences, and instruction necessary to maximize learning potential across the school.
First we say “Project-Problem-Passion-Based Learning.” This starts with that teacher generated (perhaps choice of) project(s), in an attempt to make the meaningless in a curriculum appear relevant. Then, Problem — still teacher generated — say, “how might we filter water?” or even, “how might we clean water?” with student agency taking a foothold. Then Passion — to us Student Passion, not teacher — as in “What interests you? What could you read/do/write/make?” And suddenly the classroom changes.
Finally, the term we use is “Maker,” and for us that means Student Created Context. The learner knows where she/he wants to go, and we ride along, fitting important skill development and knowledge in where appropriate.
Within all this, “technology” — meaning contemporary information and communications technology — is essential, as are all other kinds of tools. And that technology needs to be open and under student control, or it becomes a limitation instead of a key to the world.
We are learning that Making to Learn allows the children themselves to create their own engaging context.
Making has a simple role in schools, my friend and colleague Chad Ratliff says, “it is putting content into student-created context.”
It is our responsibility to provide every learner with real learning space choices based on task-based and physical comfort-based needs, which not only allow their cognitive energy to be focused on learning but helps students to develop the contemporary skills needed to alter and use spaces to initiate and accomplish collaborative and individual work. This includes the availability of multiple communication tools and contemporary technologies as well as assisting students in understanding and creating a variety of learning products which demonstrate student choices in curriculum, task, technologies, and media.
No child within the Albemarle County Public Schools should need a label or prescription in order to access the tools of learning or environments they need. Within the constraints of other laws (in particular, copyright) we will offer alternative representations of information, multiple tools, and a variety of instructional strategies to provide access for all learners to acquire lifelong learning competencies and the knowledge and skills specified in curricular standards. We will create classroom cultures that fully embrace differentiation of instruction, student work, and assessment based upon individual learners’ needs and capabilities. We will apply contemporary learning science to create accessible entry points for all students in our learning environments; and which support students in learning how to make technology choices to overcome disabilities and inabilities, and to leverage preferences and capabilities.
Source: Seven Pathways
Student-created Context and Timeless Learning at Albemarle County Public Schools
Albemarle County Schools (#APCS) has embraced BYOC, student-created context, open technology, toolbelt theory, and universal design for learning. They are leaders and innovators to watch and emulate. Follow superintendent Pam Moran, technology and innovation director Ira Socol, and their fellow Albemarle educators on Twitter — and read their blogs.